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The Nashville Celts: Sons of Sailors
by George Graham
(Independent release as broadcast on WVIA-FM 4/17/2018)
It’s always interesting the way people pick names for their bands. Sometimes, they are straightforward like the Allman Brothers Band. Back in the psychedelic days, the more unlikely, whimsical or as much a non-sequitur, the better, like the Strawberry Alarm Clock, or the Jefferson Airplane. Rare is a band with a highly descriptive band name, but this week we have one that succinctly says who they are and what they play. They are the Nashville Celts, and what you hear is just what you would expect, with some American country and folk with Irish and Scottish Celtic influence. Their new release is called Sons of Sailors.
The Nashville Celts were founded by Ric Blair, who started heading toward a jazz career, majoring in jazz at the University of Cincinnati’s College Conservatory of Music. At school, he was convinced by a friend to go to a performance of Irish music, apparently at a pub, and Blair was hooked. As the band’s name says, they are based in Nashville, where Blair settled into Music City, but has been bringing to life his fusion of Celtic with country and rock, in a series of concerts and tours. The band was featured in their own PBS music special, and also were guests at the Bluegrass Underground series of subterrainian concerts at the Caverns, and the PBS-TV series of filmed there. The band also does a touring Christmas show, and have played at Lincoln Center and Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium.
Blair, who plays guitar, the Irish bodran drums, and piano, has as his regular collaborator, Maura McGhee, who is from Dundee, Scotland, who plays the fiddle and shares lead vocals with Blair. The rest of the personnel varies on different gigs and on the album, there are 10 other players who appear on Sons of Sailors, including Celtic essentials like Uilleann pipes, pennywhistle , accordion and the like, plus on the session, bassist Patrick Martin and drummer Kayleigh Moyer, who plays in a rock and country style, and provides the Nashville connection to the sound. The group plays a mix of traditional and original pieces, including jigs and reels, and a cover of a Johnny Cash classic. The result is an appealing mix, in which the Celtic influence runs from playing traditional style instrumentals, to more country singer-songwriter material with a rock beat, in which the Celtic instrumentation mostly provides sonic colors.
The fairly short 35-minute album opens with a piece called Erin’s Chains, which sounds like a traditional tune, performed by the Nashville Celts with the sound well described the band’s name. <<>>
Sons of Sailors, the title track, favors the country and rock side of the group, with the textures of the Celtic instrumentation adding to what is basically a kind of folk-rock song. <<>>
One of the best examples of the band’s upbeat mixture of rock and Celtic influences is a track called Vera Rose, an appealing story-song. <<>>
The Nashville side of the band is front and center on the track called Jackson, a kind of straight country song but with the pennywhistle and pipes providing a reminder of the band’s dual musical direction. <<>>
On the other hand, there is an instrumental track called Golden Wedding Reel which adds a rock bass and drums to the Celtic tune. <<>>
Laura McGhee is the featured vocalist on the song Counting Stars, definitely not a traditional song, and one of the more electric on the album. It works out well. <<>>
Another highlights of the album is Scotland Wha Hae, a slow ballad with lyrics about freedom, in which the Nashville and Celtic influences are both front and center, with the traditional style of the song and its lyrics, and the pennywhistle sharing the instrumental spotlight with a country style Dobro. <<>>
The album ends with perhaps its most clever track, a medley of an Irish style reel, called Frank’s Reel with the Johnny Cash classic Ring of Fire. <<>>
Sons of Sailors the new album by the well-named Nashville Celts is an enjoyable and creative mix of the Americana and the Celtic. The blend tends toward the popular side, with not much of the really traditional, but the players of the Celtic instrumentation are quite good in their craft, and provide sufficient authenticity to the sonic mix. One notable omission from the CD package and indeed the band’s website is a listening of the composers of each tune and whether they were traditional, and who in the group created the original material.
Our grade for audio quality is close to an “A.” The sound is clean, capturing the timbre of the Celtic instrumentation well and also providing a punchiness to the rock and country rhythm section. The dynamic range is mediocre, but still better at capturing the ebb and flow of the music than most.
Ric Blair and the Nashville Celts have created an album that it not only notable for its truth in advertising, but makes for quite enjoyable listening.
(c) Copyright 2019 George D. Graham. All rights reserved.
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